Labor Shortage Puts Unions and Associations Into Action

December 10, 2007
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Unions are certainly working hard in an effort to bring more qualified workers into the HVACR field.

In a recent survey of chapters belonging to the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), manpower shortages were identified as a concern by over one-third of respondents. This is an increase from last year. In fact, one-half of all local sheet metal unions have fewer members today than 10 years ago. Close to 90 percent of SMACNA chapters, including all in the West, reported that the local unions in their area have active organizing programs.

Recruitment is considered a high priority for the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA) and it has stepped up organizing efforts. SMACNA works through its labor partner, SMWIA, on workforce recruitment. In addition, International Training Institute (iTi), which focuses on training and recruitment programs for co-sponsors SMACNA and SMWIA, has issued a series of outreach tools, plus called on joint apprentice training committees (JATCs), to double recruiting efforts. In March of this year, it set an 18-month timetable for all JATCs to fill their quota.

On the other hand, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA), representing 330,000 members, has a new program in place, designed to recruit the next generation of needed service technicians. UA’s Training Department has entered into an articulation agreement with HVAC Excellence, linking formal accredited HVAC Training Program graduates with placement into the UA’s HVACR Apprenticeship system.

Breaking this down further, the UA and the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA), a subsidiary of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), have made a commitment to make graduates from HVAC Excellence-accredited programs who possess HVAC Excellence certifications their first line of recruitment.

“I’m extremely proud of our training,” said UA General President Bill Hite to the graduates of the union’s 2007 Instructor Training Program. “When I started as a general officer in 1996, we had about 17,000 in our apprentice program. Today, we have almost 40,000 apprentices. We’re continuing to produce qualified, highly skilled, and dedicated men and women who represent the backbone of the building trades.”

Further into his speech, Hite added, “The next 10 years will define our future. We’re either going to grow market share or we will fade away. Let me be perfectly clear: Failure is not an option. We have to organize, recruit, and train like never before.”



RECAP OF RECENT SMWIA MEETING

At SMWIA’s 2007 Business Agents Conference in Toronto this past August, General President Mike Sullivan emphasized that apprenticeship recruitment was a first priority. In the August/September issue of The Journal, the official publication of the SMWIA, Sullivan wrote:

“We must re-examine our standards and the use of other training approaches that recognize the change in work operations and the need for specialists that may never bend metal. We need to double our apprentice numbers today just to stay even with the current number of journeypersons. We need to hire more apprentices and other qualified workers to protect our future job opportunities.”

At the Business Agents Conference, business agents and managers from all over the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico listened to reports on the state of the union and worked with the International leadership to produce a plan of action to meet the needs of all union members, whether general members, officers, or retirees.



ACTION PLAN FOR SMWIA

According to Rosalind Raymond, director of public relations and communications for SMACNA, the action plan on apprenticeship recruitment resulting from the Business Agents Conference breakout session included the following:

1. Amend JATC standards to facilitate the evaluation and slotting of newly organized sheet metal workers; modify, if necessary, the local collective bargaining agreement to meet the terms of the revised standards; and implement concentrated training.

2. Establish journeymen-to-apprentice ratios based upon total journeymen employed by all employers within the multiemployer association or signatory to the collective bargaining agreement. Modify the local agreement, as necessary, to allow the gross employer ratios.

3. Modify the apprentice wage and benefit package to increase the taxable wage for newly organized apprentices.

4. Have the local union and the JATC develop a 10-year plan that will facilitate growth in recruitment, organizing, market share, funding the JATC, stabilizing the financial condition of the local union treasury, and the local benefit plans. Evaluate and revise, as necessary, the 10-year plan annually.

5. Develop educational programs for local union journeymen, contractors, JATC coordinators, and trustees on the effect on market share and local and national benefit plans with the declining number of apprentices relative to the number of journeymen and increasing number of retirees.



ITI IN THE MIX

From iTi’s standpoint, the demographics of the sheet metal industry point to a troubling fact: As the current membership ages and demand for sheet metal grows exponentially, apprenticeship programs will need to double their output to stay even.

“Some may need to go beyond twice their current enrollment,” wrote Shoulders, “but on average, nationwide, we need to have twice our current number and that’s a tall order.”

In collaboration with the marketing firm of Maguire and Reader, iTi has produced recruiting packages that include 30-second radio and television spots designed to run in local markets, along with a set of informational brochures and a two-minute CD presentation for one-on-one meetings with prospective apprentices or to acquaint a nonunion contractor with the benefits of going union.

According to iTi’s administrator, each of the media spots focus on one of the eight sheet metal occupational specialties: residential HVAC, industrial welding, architectural service/refrigeration, testing and balancing, detailing, roofing, and the sign industry. Currently the residential HVAC and the industrial welding spots are complete.



MSCA, UA, HVAC EXCELLENCE WORK TOGETHER

The Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA) is working with HVAC Excellence as its technical school partner for its 5 STAR Career technician recruitment initiative.

As part of the arrangement, MSCA has included a link to HVAC Excellence-accredited schools on its new HVAC career Website for aspiring techs (www.5starcareers.com). Graduates of HVAC Excellence schools will be prompted by their instructors to submit a career profile to the 5 STAR Career site upon graduation. Members of MSCA will then have access to these profiles as they look to hire new qualified techs.

“We recognize the importance of a good education for tomorrow’s HVAC service technician, and the schools accredited by HVAC Excellence have met many tough requirements in curriculum development, equipment and tools, and instructor training,” said Barbara Dolim, executive director of MSCA.

Thomas Tebbe, national programs director for HVAC Excellence, noted that the partnership with MSCA helps accredited schools in two ways. “First, it points interested students in the direction of schools that have attained accreditation,” he said. “Second, the 5 STAR Career site is a direct link to over 1,200 contractors that are hiring new technicians.”



FIVE STAR CAREER PROGRAM

The 5 Star Career program is a joint recruiting program of MSCA and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA). Among other features, the proactive program features an in-depth Website for aspiring HVACR techs and other resources for anyone thinking of starting a career as an HVACR service tech. The program was designed to attract new persons to the HVACR industry.

Five STAR Career literature was also created to point out career opportunities available in the HVACR field. Both literature and Website were developed to help career counselors, high school students, and parents all understand the various career paths and benefits of a career in the industry.

Persons interested in a career can submit their career profiles online instantly to over 1,200 contractors. According to MSCA, “Anyone who has a stake in the HVACR industry can help recruit the next generation of HVACR service technicians by adding a link to www.5starcareers.com on their Website or handing out the recruitment brochures.”

In addition, UA’s Training Department recently entered into an articulation agreement with HVAC Excellence, linking formal accredited HVAC Training Program graduates with placement into the UA’s HVACR apprenticeship system. Under the direction of Mike Arndt, a simple, one-page agreement was produced and put into place for the advantage of all UA locals having an HVACR program.

In a nutshell, the agreement contains five points that an HVACR apprentice candidate must satisfy. The local union does not have to create or conduct any HVACR knowledge evaluation as this is done by HVAC Excellence and the results will be available to the local’s training coordinator.

To qualify for advanced placement, a person must:

• graduate from a program that has been granted full accreditation by HVAC Excellence;

• achieve a C average or better in their studies, and

• pass a series of six HVAC Excellence certifications (electrical, air conditioning, electric heat, light commercial air conditioning, light commercial refrigeration, and one of three heating exams - gas, oil, or heat pumps).

“Graduates meeting this criteria can be fast tracked to higher entry-level positions through the UA with their employer partners at the MSCA,” noted Howard Weiss, marketing director for HVAC Excellence.



MCAA ON MOVE, TOO

In addition to MSCA, parent association Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) is following the UA movement in its effort to, among other issues, combat the labor shortage. Current MCAA President David Kruse is pleased with the way UA General President Bill Hite and his administration have displayed on the many important issues facing the industry.

“We may bargain across the table, but our joint futures are linked by many shared and strong interests,” wrote Kruse in the September 2007 issue of MCAA Reporter.

“Our joint duty to represent all of our members in the present and the future is to make sure that top-notch jobsite performance becomes the hallmark of every job we build together.”

Kruse commended Hite and the UA for “a host of initiatives that are changing our industry for the better.” Many of these initiatives are detailed in “Building a Stronger Future,” featured in the September 2007 issue of MCAA Reporter.

Publication Date: 12/10/2007

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